The constitutional solution lies in the halls of the parliament, not military headquarters. Sharif’s offer to facilitate an independent judicial inquiry and strengthen the parliamentary committee tasked to investigate electoral fraud are steps in the right direction. The prime minister must also support constitutional amendments to devolve power by creating new provinces, so the largest province and Sharif’s stronghold, Punjab, does not always get the lion’s share of revenues and parliamentary seats. This will go a long way in placating the legitimate discrimination against smaller provinces such as Balochistan, which is inflamed by violent separatists.
Sharif must also decrease cronyism, starting by inviting Khan and Qadri to join his cabinet, which today is dominated by Sharif’s relatives and business partners. Finally budget, foreign policy, and defense-related parliamentary committees should be strengthened to improve the civil-military balance and encourage bipartisan legislation.
Washington can help by using its leverage. Most of Pakistan’s military is armed with American weapon systems and platforms such as the F/16 fighter jets, cobra gunships, and naval surveillance platforms. Of the $28 billion in aid America gave to Pakistan over the last 12 years, $11 billion was in direct support of combating terrorists and insurgents. While the Pakistani military did go after armed groups directly threatening its existence, it has yet to eradicate groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network, which have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan and India.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
For years the United States gave billions to Pakistani generals to gain security for Washington and stability in Islamabad; today there is little of both. Besides putting pressure on Pakistani generals to go after the entire Al Qaeda conglomerate, Washington should continue to make its aid conditional on the existence and stability of Pakistani democracy.
Pakistan has a plethora of problems: economic decline, ubiquitous terrorism, government inefficacy and corruption and the ultimate failure of creating an inclusive nation state. But Pakistan today has a few silver linings. In the last three weeks, leaders of 11 political parties spoke in favor of constitutional democracy, urging the prime minister not to resign under pressure from protestors. The current chief of the army, General Raheel Sharif, seems to have backed off from overtly supporting the protesters, and many in the media are openly criticizing the retired generals and spy chiefs involved in supporting Khan and Qadri.
At the same time, many parliamentarians are chiding the Sharif administration for slow economic growth and cronyism. This is the beginning of constitutional democracy – when political winners and losers resolve differences in the parliament without colluding with generals or inciting violence. To encourage this trend, Washington should reinforce conditions for foreign aid to Pakistan, including those related to strengthening democracy and combating terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network.
Democracy is messy; just look at the aftermath of the Arab spring and the current crisis in Iraq. Still, if democracy is consolidated with inclusive politics, it outlives and outperforms any dictatorship.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a lecturer at the Naval Post Graduate School and Adjunct Professor at the Naval War College. You can find him on Twitter @haidermullick or visit his website.